Bottom Line: Tales such as Beauty and the Beast and Rumplestiltskin can be traced back to the emergence of the major western Indo-European subfamilies as distinct lineages between 2,500 and 6,000 years ago, vindicating the theories of the Brothers Grimm:
Tehrani said their study agreed with Grimm’s theory: “Some of these stories go back much further than the earliest literary record and indeed further back than classical mythology – some versions of these stories appear in Latin and Greek texts – but our findings suggest they are much older than that.”
Analysis showed Jack and the Beanstalk was rooted in a group of stories classified as The Boy Who Stole Ogre’s Treasure, and could be traced back to when eastern and western Indo-European languages split – more than 5,000 years ago. Beauty and the Beast and Rumpelstiltskin to be about 4,000 years old. A folk tale called The Smith and the Devil was estimated to date back 6,000 years to the bronze age.
The story, which involves a blacksmith selling his soul in a pact with the devil in order to gain supernatural ability, then tricking the evil power, is not so well known today, but its theme of a Faustian pact is familiar to many.
The study employed phylogenetic analysis, which was developed to investigate evolutionary relationships between species, and used a tree of Indo-European languages to trace the descent of shared tales on it, to see how far they could be demonstrated to go back in time.
Tehrani said: “We find it pretty remarkable these stories have survived without being written. They have been told since before even English, French and Italian existed. They were probably told in an extinct Indo-European language.”
Da Silva believes the stories endure thanks to “the power of storytelling and magic from time immemorial”.